The U.S. has been knocked out of this year’s World Cup. They made a nice showing but the Dutch game clearly demonstrated that we are still a ways from being able to compete with the soccer (take that Beckham) powers of the world.
One thing unaffected by that result is my passion for following the rest of Qatar 22. I’ve watched as much of every World Cup as possible since 1966, when the firemen (mostly Irish) at my neighborhood fire station got a copy of FIFA’s “GOAL 1966” film and let a bunch of us kids watch it one afternoon after school.
That was the Cup of Eusebio, and the introduction of Franz Beckenbauer to the world. And most of all it was the cup of Bobby Moore, the Charlton brothers, Nobby Stiles and the rest of England’s “wingless wonders.” I was hooked.
Every four years since then, I’ve been transfixed. From Brazil in ’70, Beckenbauer’s Germany of ’74, the repeated disappointments of the Netherlands, watching late night doubleheaders as a soccer camp coach in ’82, through attending matches in ’94, Zidane’s sublime performances in ’98 and ’06, waking up for 3 a.m. kickoffs in ’02 – I can furnish a biographical narrative of my life organized around the World Cup.
This year’s edition of the World Cup has been made particularly problematic for soccer fans with a social conscience. Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, their oppressive treatment of the LBGTQ community and, yes, their policies regarding alcohol have created a dilemma.
FIFA has a long and storied history of corruption, and comfort with autocrats, dating back to at least the second World Cup (1934) when Mussolini’s Italy was selected as host nation.
But even using that rather low bar, this year’s situation was especially disturbing. FIFA’s selection of Qatar to serve as host of the world’s most celebratory sporting event was, and is, jaw dropping. It would seem to fly in the face of so much of what we expect as we enter the third decade of the 21st century.
This has been a point of discussion among soccer fans for the last 12 years, since FIFA selected Qatar as host nation in 2010. I, for one, doubted Qatar would actually host the cup up until a year or so ago. I assumed that between general protests and the reality of the geopolitics of the region, a last-minute change would be made.
I was obviously wrong and, as the cup approached, I became rather despondent with regard to how I was going to respond.
It’s the World Cup! And yet, would I be complicit in Qatar’s efforts to sport-wash their oppressive regime and policies by consuming their manufactured product? Should I boycott all affiliated corporations? Should I change my opinion of the individuals brought on board to present the human, progressive side of Qatar?
Once the competitions began, the situation resolved itself. I watched the matches and ignored as much off the field reporting and commentary as possible.
This does not mean I’ve accepted Qatar’s stances with respect to the issues mentioned above. It means the time to object, to protest, to fight, was in 2010, in 2011, in 2012 and so forth.
The time to object will be in a month, and then on a daily basis for as long as it takes until the voices of inclusion and human dignity are heard and respected – among the decision makers at FIFA, among the corporate powers bankrolling Qatar 22, and among the political actors who have given, and are giving, sanction to the entire project.
For now, please, let me enjoy the beauty of the beautiful game. Let me be inspired by the heroic efforts of individuals representing their people and cultures. Let me be moved by the relationships between the fans and teams from the four corners of the earth.
Give me those moments of transcendence, small and large, that leave me believing as if the world is full of possibilities, even those that only moments ago seemed impossible.
And if after Qatar 22 is over, I do not demonstrate that there has been a lesson learned, that I do not use my voice to object, forcibly, consistently and with vigor, whenever an injustice is being done, may God have mercy on my soul.
An Emirati Professor of sociology at the University of Montevallo, he has a United States Soccer Federation “B” license as well as licenses from Brazil and England.